Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Return To Istanbul


Time had flown by so quickly. Seven weeks had flown by as quickly as we had flown through the Baltics and Eastern Europe. We didn't get to see everything on our list but we definitely got a taste for the area and met many wonderful people. As we boarded a flight from Bidapest to Istanbul, I started to reflect on our travels. I always find the time waiting for an airplane the perfect time to reflect on my travels. I asked mom "What would you do different with our trip?" She replied "Nothing." I laughed. I was happy she had enjoyed it and the hauling a backpack, climbing 4 flights of stairs to our rooms, walking all day in the cold and taking public transport had not been too rough. I told her I loved every place we had been but if I was doing it again, I would have limited the trip to 2-3 countries. I felt like I was rushing the experience and did not have time to know the country. Mom looked at me and asked what countries I would have done. I loved it all but I know now I would have chosen the less tourists ones: Bulbaria, Macedonia and Albania. She laughed and asked if it was because they were the cheapest. Obviously! I have gotten really cheap with my mo ey now that the bank account has dwindled to less money. I have been on the road 10 months and spent 80% of my budget. I find myself watching my finances closer as the trip will be winding down. Originally, I had planned 12 months and $25,000. Now I am thinking I will travel until the money is gone. If I can make it last 14 months would be fantastic! Then I would not return to the USA until late spring. Time will tell how cheaply I can travel Central and South America.

Mom and I arrived in Istanbul at 10 AM. We had become experts in Istanbul travel and we got our bags and went to the Havanas bus for the trip to Taksim Square. We had booked an apartment near the square and close to where we stored our luggage. We checked in to our apartment and then I left mom while I went to retrieve our bags from storage. As I walked with my bags, it hit me that mom was leaving me and returning home in a couple of days. I had an extra few days in Istanbul before I flew to Nicaragua. I was going to be on my own again until December 27th when I meet up with my friends Christy and Steve. Where has this year gone? I can't believe how time passed so quickly while I have had the most amazing experiences of my life! As I was still in my reflective state of mind, I returned to the apartment and mom and I started emptying the bags looking at everything she was taking bak to the USA, including the gifts she had purchased and a few things I would not need on the remainder of my journey. We    relaxed and decided to spend the day relaxing. I needed to write and upload photos. It felt fantastic to just stay still for a day. By late afternoon, I was ready for some Turkish food and a walk to see the lights of Istanbul. We went to a family restaurant and enjoyed our favorite mezes (beets, lentil and pomegranate salad and hummus) then chicken kebabs. I missed the Mediterranean food.
After dinner we took the tram to Sultahmet and walked to the Blue Mosque. It was open and mom and I decided to go in. There was no line which meant very few tourists inside the mosque. It was nice to be able to see it without the hordes of tourists. We entered and took our time truly enjoying the magnificent architecture and tranquility of the mosque.

Afterwards, we walked outside. The courtyard was empty. There was a Muslim woman standing in the center admiring the architecture. She was serene and beautiful. I turned and saw a woman sitting in a doorway. They were beautiful in the serene courtyard of the Blue Mosque.
As I was taking a few shots, a young man approached and asked if I would take a few photos of him. Of course. I put my hand out for his camera and he said "No, with yours. You can email me the photos." I was taken by surprise and told him I can't promise anything but sure. Why not?
As he looked the pictures I had taken, he scrolled through the other shots I had photographed and asked if I would send them also. I said it would cost him $1000. We laughed and he promised any free legal aid that I need. Sounds fair to me. He and I chatted about life and our travels. He was a lawyer from Budapest here in Istanbul for work. I was intrigued as he told me his backstory. He was an orphan after his parents were killed. He was 7 when he went to live at an orphanage. He explained it was a difficult life as he and his family were Muslim gypsies. He had no known family when he went to the orphanage. The other kids bullied him because he was different. He told me itade him work harder to be the smartest kid in class and to never have to depend on others. He graduated high school with the highest GPA and received a full ride scholarship to law school. I was intrigued that he his drive was so strong and he had succeeded at all of his dreams. He got his law degree and was now working for a NGO helping orphaned children. I had tears in my eyes when he finished his story. I thanked him for sharing his life story with me. We met by chance and he was willing to open up and share his life. He didn't want anything or was trying to brag. It was all very humble. Why are we so fearful and closed to other people? Being open and sharing with people provides a more I retesting experience. It also breaks down all of our prejudices and stereotypes. I feel so blessed to meet people on my travels! I have changed so much from the shy timid girl of my teens into a confident woman in my 40's. I never imagined my life would be the axing story that has unfolded these past few decades. I could not have dreamed this reality. I said my goodbyes to my new friend and went to find my mother.
We walked on to Hagia Sofia. It was beautiful in the lights. I wanted a couple of photos of the fountain and mom said she oils meet me on the other side of the park. I was captivated at the beauty of the parks. 
I found my mother chatting with a fellow American abou travel. I joined the conversation and we shared our stories. We said our goodbyes and wished one another safe journeys.

In the morning, we went to the Grand Bazaar for some Christmas shopping. Mom had a list of items she needed to buy and we shopped for a few hours. I hate bartering but we did pretty well on purchases. Mom left with everything she needed and we went for dinner. She was leaving in the morning and this was my opportunity to see what her highlights were from the trip. 
Favorite country: 
Michelle- Turkey
Mom- They are all so beautiful! But probably Croatia or Austria.

Favorite city: 
Michelle- Budapest 
Mom- Split

Favorite sight: 
Michelle- nature- Lake Plitvices, most memorable- Auschwitz
Mom- Lake Bled, Ljubljana

Funniest moment: 
Michelle-Mom's poncho in the rain! She looked like a walking condom! 
Mom- falling in front of the bus! 

Best food: 
Michelle- lamb chops! 
Mom- Too hard to choose. She lived lamb chops, goose leg and pug knuckles. 

Best hot chocolate: 
Michelle- Dubrovnik, first hot pudding chocolate was one I will never forget! 
Mom- all of them! Who can complain with hot chocolate! 

I loved traveling with my mother and having her share in my amazing adventures. We have so many fantastic memories that make me smile. I realized what traits I inherited from her and how we are alike in some ways and extremely different in other ways. I am so proud of her for coming on this trip and enjoying it. Thanks mom! 

I spent my final days in Istanbul relaxing and going to dinner with friends I had met in the city. I loved Turkey and Istanbul. I will return one day. Leaving Istanbul and thinking of my time in Turkey. The things that I think of when I think of Turkey:
•the best yogurt! Beats the Greek yogurt that use to be my favorite. Delicious, creamy and perfect with a little honey. 
• Family. I have met people that took me in and treated as one of their members of family. Ethem at Ocak, Omer at Pamukkale, Turan and Halil in Istanbul. I have so much love and appreciation for their acts of kindness and willingness to share their cities and culture with me. 
•Flag. The Turks are proud if their flag and I saw it every day, multiple places. Even when traveling to ther countries, I could recognize a Turkish family because they seemed to hang a flag outside their homes. Some countries did not appreciate this due to the years of fighting with the Turks throughout history. The national pride reminds me of home, USA and Turkey are the two countries I have seen the most flags flying. I will  always recognize the Turkish flag. 
•Lamb. Turkish know how to cook lamb. It is responsible for my love affair with lamb chops. Nom nom nom!
•Men. Wow! They were gorgeous and enjoyed flirting. Yes, 90% are full of it but the ones I met and spent time with we're sweet and romantic. If you single ladies are looking for a fun vacation where you want some male attention, go to Turkey. The men still treat you like a lady and open doors and want to take you out for dinner. They even insist on paying. Most will listen to you and ask about your life, help you plan what to see and show you their city. It is a predominately Muslim country so they are conservative in public and only kiss you on the cheek. I would tell you to be careful. Some our just looking for a "good time." 

I left Turkey on December 9th with a heavy heart. It was difficult to say goodbye to a city I had loved. But, it was time to move on. I was flying to Paris for a 22 hour layover (yay!) then on to Atlanta for a 24 hour layover before arriving in Managua, Nicaragua. Yes, long travel time but I used my frequent flier miles and only had to pay $347! 

Good bye Turkey...Bonjour Paris! 



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